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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “Elvis Costello”

Dave Caruso’s Tasty Songcraft

Dave Caruso: Carboard Vegas RoundaboutIt’s not all hard-driving Power Pop here at Pop That Goes Crunch. Quieter, more introspective work is occasionally in order. Dave Caruso’s new long-player, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, fits beautifully into that space and delivers ten finely crafted tunes that sound particularly great on the car stereo (especially with the top down or the sunroof wide open), or on the headphones late at night after a hard day of work or play.

Caruso cites his main influences as “Elvis Costello, Neil Finn, Elton John, Del Amitri, Ben Folds, The Beach Boys and The Beatles.” That’s a rather tall order, but Caruso is more than up to the task.

“Mystery & Sweetness” begins the festivities with a swaying mid-70s vibe and sweet vocal harmonies on top of a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar. The harmonies kick into high gear on the next track, “Champion,” in which Caruso lays down some of the most complex vocal arrangements of the year, and succeeds over-and-over again. “Your Fake Friends” is a relatively driving piece of jangle pop that nicely skewers supposed camaraderie in an age of status updates and social media “likes.” These virtues crystallize in “The Art of Erica,” in which Caruso serves up the bitter with the sweet in a track that likely will find its way onto my year-end “Best Of” list.

Samples of each song on Vegas can be heard on Caruso’s website, where you can purchase the download of the album, as well an extended 22-track CD which includes alternate versions demos, bonus mixes and 12-page booklet with song lyrics, photos, liner notes and credits. Click over there right now, and drink in Caruso’s tasty songcraft.


Late Summer “Mini” Reviews

Time does have a tendency to fly away. Here are some short takes on some of the best albums of 2013 that have been recently spinning on my music device:

Eric Barao, Eric Barao: Barao’s lushly produced debut album recalls Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom with its swirling melodies, complex arrangements, occasional instrumental flourishes and tales of broken hearts. The lead track, “On Holiday,” with its tension-release structure and Barao’s strong vocals, is a candidate for song of the year:


Nick Piunti, 13 In My Head: Piunti’s debut evokes one of my other all-time favorites, The Replacements. He employs a more basic approach. Bass, guitars and drums propel succinct bursts of timeless powerpop that could have been recorded at any time since 1972. Piunti’s Paul Westerberg-meets-Faces-era-Rod-Stewart vocals, and pitch-perfect backing harmonies, should make this a car stereo favorite for years to come. Selecting a “best” song is difficult — there is not a misfire among the ten tracks — but the mid-tempo “On the Way Out” is a good place to start:


The Dead Girls, Fade In/Fade Out: Think Big Star, but about a dozen pounds heavier. Fade In/Fade Out has all of the requisite melodic rock elements discussed throughout this site, but amped up with big riffs and occasionally even bigger percussion. “Find Your Way To Me (Oh My Soul)” is the best six-minute plus song Big Star never recorded. For good measure, the band closes the collection with a perfect, harmony-filled cover of Chris Bell’s enduringly beautiful “You And Your Sister”:


Scott Brookman, Smellicopter: Brookman has been quietly self-releasing sunny pop gems for quite some time. His 2000 release, For Those Who Like POP, has gotten quite a few spins on iPhone. Smellicopter, though, is his best excursion to date into Beach Boys/Bacharach territory. The second track, “Summer’s Two Weeks Notice” might be the best exemplar of Brookman’s basic style with its decidedly Pet Sounds vibe, but I’m kind of partial to more jaunty “Very Anne”:


Lisa Mychols, Above Beyond & In Between: I’ve written previously about Mychols as a member of the Masticators and Nushu. Her third solo album is a perfect distillation of everything that was once great about AM radio, transported to 2013. Its twelve tracks of non-stop hooks and melodies that would sound great on a long, sunny day at the beach. It proudly flashes its influences, but is no mere nostalgia project. A proper, well-produced video for the terrific ballad “Ferris Wheel” can be found here, but Mychols’ own homemade, low-fi clip for the upbeat “Foolin’ The World” is far more endearing:

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So, there’s five of my favorite albums of 2013. Each are worthy of extended play. Tell me what you think.

Michael Simmons’ Its The End Of The World: The Ultimate DIY Recording

Michael SimmonsIt’s The End Of The World As We Know It And I Feel Live may be the ultimate “do it yourself” recording. Simmons is a member of Sparkle*Jets U.K., a Southern California band, whose sound is described as “a distinctive marriage of ’60s and ’70s rock and whimsical guitar pop.” That’s close enough. It certainly sounds something like that.

It’s The End Of The World is a collection of covers — some acoustic, some not– that Simmons performed “live” entirely by himself. How does one person play “live,’ particularly on the several multi-part tracks that comprise the collection? Here’s what Simmons says:

My tracks are usually still ‘live’ with all the normal mistakes you’d expect, but I play all the instruments. It’s what it would be like if I could clone myself and got together to jam on songs I don’t really know. Most of these songs were first attempts of songs I don’t know how to play.

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Recording was typically done on multi-track equipment, but each take was done ‘live’ in one go, with a camera running. Some songs (mostly the 2nd half of the album) were recorded live with a webcam or iPhone, which is why they don’t sound as good.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. This guy recorded a bunch of songs that he doesn’t really know how to play. He admits that his record contains a number of “mistakes.” He acknowledges that some of the songs sound crappy. Why on earth should you spend your time listening to this “recording”?

Well, you should. Its darned good, and chock full of excellent interpretations of classic pop rock gems.

The first track, Squeeze’s “(This Could Be) The Last Time,” sets the tone for the entire loosely constructed and playful set. Simmons starts with a riff from the original that sounds like the opening riff from “Is That Love,” also by Squeeze, before getting down to business in the song at hand. “Spooky,” done originally by Classics IV and then by The Atlanta Rhythm Section, breezes along quite jazzily before Simmons outdoes himself by singing all of the parts of the Brothers Gibb, and harmonizing with himself to great effect, on “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” Simmons’ self-harmonies by virtual cloning are also quite tasty on his superb version of ELO’s “Bluebird Is Dead”:

Two tracks later, Simmons gives “She Said, She Said” a slightly heavier, bassier treatment than The Beatles’ original version. It works quite well:

The acoustic iPhone recordings kick in soon thereafter. “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” made famous by Charlie Rich back in 1973, gets a dramatic, stripped down and soulful reading by Simmons devoid of the schmaltz of the original hit. Perhaps even better, however, is Simmons’ version of the Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach-penned “Toledo.” Simmons notes at the outset that “I don’t have a flugelhorn,” thus requiring him to hum a couple of the brass parts amid his gorgeous vocals:

It all comes to a close four songs later with 25 seconds worth of The Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye,” a perfect ending to a set that does not even come close to taking itself too seriously. It’s just “good, clean fun,” and Simmons’ obvious love of the songs he covers is readily apparent. What more can you want in the middle of winter?

You can “name your price” for a digital download of It’s The End Of The World on Bandcamp. Simmons also has posted videos for each of the tracks on You Tube. Check ’em out.

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